In what's probably the most interesting camcorder announcement of 2009, Sony has proffered up the Handycam HDR-XR500 series, a pair of hard disk-based AVCHD camcorders which integrate the dual firsts of built-in GPS and a new Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor.
Back-lit CMOS, a Sony lens not Carl Zeiss, and geotagging all feature on the new HDR-XR520V.
Although the sensor tech was announced half a year ago, this is the first time we're seeing it in a product. The technology flips the layers on sensor so that the photosites are above the electronics where they can get more light. This may prove an effective way to improve low-light performance, the weak link for consumer camcorders. Sony claims an 8dB increase in sensitivity, as well as a 50 per cent reduction in noise. Annoyingly, Sony continues to overstate the resolution of its sensors. This one's a 6-megapixel unit, although you'll see the company claiming 12 — which is actually its interpolated resolution — all over its marketing materials.
The XR500's also incorporate a built-in GPS for geotagging video and photos, another first for consumer camcorders. While we're a big fan of adding geotagging to imaging equipment, video isn't quite ready for geotagging; unlike photos, there's no metadata standard for storing the information with the file. As a result, Sony has to store it in a sidecar file with data that most applications won't know how to parse.
The new 15x zoom lens on the XR500 series also offers increased optical stabilisation coverage area, for better compensation while walking, in an optional Active Mode. It's optional because the larger coverage area results in some resolution degradation around the edges of the images. It also incorporates Sony's latest Smile Shutter and face detection technologies.
In the US there are two models, which will differ only in hard drive size and, of course, price. The HDR-XR520V has a 240GB drive and will cost US$1,500 (AU$2,115), while the 120GB HDR-XR500V will cost US$1,300 (AU$1,835). Both will be available in the US in March; Australian availability and pricing have yet to be confirmed.